Reel meets reality in the Northeast
With many must-watch films vying for attention at the upcoming 15th edition of the Mumbai Film Festival, Kanika Sharma speaks to Jahnu Barua, the steely filmmaker who refuses to lose steam from Assam; and Sange Dorjee, the talented moviemaker from Arunachal Pradesh, as they tell you why it's crucial to see the Northeast as a multi-sided narrative
One can only trust a man like Jahnu Barua to put the Sahitya Akademi award-winner Ashirbador Rang in theatres and the all-encompassing limelight of Google. An adaptation of the same is Barua’s forthcoming film, Ajeyo (Invincible) that is going to be screened at the 15th Mumbai Film Festival. It is based on Arun Sarma’s critically regarded novel. “The film occurs during the independence struggle in Assam as seen through the protagonist, Gojen Keot who at that time comprises the Assamese youth, is a participant in the movement for independence and expects something like a golden country at that point,” informs the sexagenarian.
With several yarns and legends still unexplored when it comes to the Indian freedom struggle, Assam’s propensity to be a gold mine becomes obvious. The interesting node of Barua’s adaptation is that the Hunarachuk-based (a small village situated north of the river Brahmaputra) sees the new millennium and with it Keot’s granddaughter, who has an alternate perspective as she eyes the police force.
Heralding women as agents of potency, Barua admits, is his wont and actually absent in the novel. “There is no granddaughter but a grandson in the novel. The male character, Keot, sees the past while the girl is progressive through whom Keot sees a ray of hope, again.” Underscoring how Barua has always perceived differently, he comments, “In Assamese society, equality exists between man and woman, and in my films, women characters are more profound as I feel they contribute more to society than men.”
Not shying away from taking a leaf out of his own life, he paints the picture of a woman who studied only till class two but managed 11 children and the household — his own mother. “The way she has dealt with each of us, none of us could say that I was loved more. She was also very popular as there was no doctor in the area and she was needed everywhere, all the time.”
Breaking off in the middle, Barua explains that this might feel unfamiliar to many but, “in Assam, lots of things are understandable. There is a big difference between the Assamese society and the rest of India. Although it is rural, I find it very profound and healthy compared to many societies in India,” signs off the 11-time National Award winner.
Tribal instincts and other Arunachali stories
One of a three or four hundred in the entire world of billions — that is who Sange Dorjee is. Hailing from Arunachal Pradesh, Dorjee has introduced the Shertukpen tribe to the world of celluloid through which he will engage the audiences at the soon-to-begin Mumbai Film Festival. Almost like a flow of a river, Dorjee’s story and depiction seem untangled and downright simple to begin with. In fact, the film is unique in that it could not even be written down in words for lack of script.
“Tashi is a 30-something man who loses his job in the city (Mumbai) and has to journey back home. In his journey, he rediscovers his roots and culture that he hardly knows about. “It is common as my generation is mostly outside, first for schooling and then for college. Some try to stay outside as long as possible and don’t want to come back home,” informs the Satyajit Ray Film and Television Institute graduate who found the camera as a vocation and the device to document his tribe.
“Anthropologist Verrier Elwin had written about our tribe during the British rule, and it’s said that we possibly travelled from Mongolia but not much is known,” shares Dorjee who believed in drawing in his friends and family to act due to several simple factors. “Firstly, my tribe is limited and I wanted my friends wanted to work in the film,” says Dorjee. He dubs his film as an “introduction to the rest of the world.” It includes dances related to masks, ghost stories, and lots of drama.
Dorjee vows that his films will only come from his home land as that is what he knows best. “There is a lot of dam building in the Northeast. There are about 150 dams being developed in my state itself by private companies. I want to look at this from the local people’s perspective.”